Budget Play List
The way this chapter runs is simple – it starts with the thing you have most control over and ends with the thing you have least control over.
It’s easier to change your spending on food & drink, than change the cost of a season ticket on the Underground.
And it’s hardest of all to negotiate your way out of a rent rise or a rise in mortgage interest rate.
Food & Drink
The “Right” Way
If you can’t cook, then teach yourself to cook.
If you can cook, then just continue to improve – it’s one of the most overlooked components of the good life.
Regards drinking, drink more water – but not too much.
Though please, please try to eliminate plastic bottled water from your life.
You’ll save yourself money and save the oceans too.
The solution is simple. Go Paleo. Find an Intermittent Fasting plan that suits you. Don’t binge-drink alcohol. Drink lots of water – your body’s favourite liquid.
And perhaps most important of all learn to cook.
Simple meals that fuel you during the working week. More complex meals to “wow” family and friends on the weekend.
The “Wrong Way”
The wrong way to spend on Food & Drink in our big towns and cities is to “Eat Out”.
Which is what a lot of young professionals do. Eat out far too often. Spend way too much on take-aways.
Just Eat. Deliveroo.
Big Food just went mobile. In every sense of the word mobile.
Big Food isn’t out to optimise your nutrition. They’re out to get your wallet.
The majority of 625 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic. The UK has the highest levels of obesity in Europe.
These facts are harbingers of the UK’s lousy nutritional future as we adopt the fast-food, “always on”, constantly marketed convenience foods of our American cousins.
Not only is all this industrial food bad for you and your body, it takes up big chunks of your disposal income.
Think I’m exaggerating? Well, check this article out…
Cars, Trains and Planes. Another life lesson from Hollywood.
Cars. The outward sign of what, exactly?
Taste? Virility? Panache? Ecological sensitivity? Youth? Power? Wealth? Riches? Conformity? Freedom? Breaking the mould?
Yes. Yes. Yes. All of those and more.
There’s been nearly a century of Mad Men activity, focus groups and data mining to ensure that the car is one of the most perennial status symbols in the annals of marketing.
The growth in car use has mirrored the population explosion and also tracked the explosion in household wealth.
In the same way that the Agricultural Revolution shaped the growth of culture and learning as people were able to congregate in large cities, the Automotive Revolution of the 20th Century drove -pardon the pun – the creation of the road infrastructure that dominates the “hard landscaping” of most countries today.
Whether that’s an ecological nightmare or not, what this means is that the car has had and will have a massive impact in people’s lives.
All that said, we’re not here to debate the macro-level effects. We’re here to discuss how cars – and rather your attitude to them – impacts on your success or failure to invest in low-cost Index funds.
For cars not to impact negatively on your pursuit of FU Money, here’s what you need to remember:
- Have a car if you can afford one or truly need one, however…
- Ideally, you should have have zero car payments…
- Which means that you should – as soon as possible – own your vehicle 100% free and clear
Put another way, don’t ever:
- Lease a new car
- Buy or lease a car that exceeds your actual ability to run and service that car
If you were to follow the spirit of the above advice – you are likely to be way different from the “average” car buyer and especially the average first-time buyer in the UK.
Equally, my guess is that you’d also – on average – be financially better off.
Even though, your standing in your peer group(s) may be somewhat diminished.
Fact is, to get to FU Money you’re gonna have to swim against the general tide of opinion against a lot of things – including car ownership and “car entitlement” – what car you think you’re intrinsically worth…
Yes. You heard me. Don’t lease that car.
You know, the shiny SUV that drives silently yet quickly through deserted city streets without traffic lights, roundabouts, speed cameras and oh, any other cars.
Because, the advertisers suggest, YOUR car – and only your car – gives you, and only you, freedom of the city, freedom of the motorway, freedom of scenic mountain passes.
Except when it doesn’t. Which is pretty much all of the time.
And talking of time, how much time does your car stand idle each day? 12 hours, 16 hours, 20 hours?
Unless you’re a travelling salesperson, an ambulance driver, a traffic officer or working home delivery, the thing is used only an hour or two each day.
So, you’re sold on the idea of freedom. Or “performance”.
But car manufacturers know better.
They know that freedom is a mirage and that the average speed in UK cities is a mere 11mph.
So, to distract you from those disappointments, they employ some magic, some misdirection. They give you a sound system. They enable Bluetooth. They ensure Spotify helps you rationalise the car payments, the car tax, the cost of fuel.
They build you own comfort zone. Knowing you’ll be happy there. Yet, meanwhile, you financial freedom is disappearing over the horizon.
Because you did the rational thing. Just like everybody else.
Housing for young people in the UK in October 2022 is a shit-show. Let’s get that out there for starters.
Anonymous Dad has never been a property developer or a landlord, but I’m part of the “golden generation” of “boomers” that could get a mortgage as soon as they started work. And – eventually – pay that mortgage off.
So yeah, lucky and privileged.
There are no easy answers here. But there is a process. Or an approach.
You need to think clearly. You need to think long and hard and then construct your own plan:
- What do you want?
- What do you need?
- When do you need it by?
- When can you make your move?
- What are your options?
Your answers to questions like these build up the context of your plan.
But no plan survives contact with the enemy. So, in addition to the answers to some quality questions, you need to include hard numbers.
You need to “game out” all your projected housing costs. Just make several copies of the Total Monthly Spend spreadsheet and run some simulations.
Do that before moving to a new area, a new city or a new country.
Bottom line: the housing you can afford is often going to be a lot less than you hoped for. The key is not lowering expectations ( though there will be some of that) but managing your expectations.
Gamify this whole thing and see what cheat codes you can use to level up this whole chaotic scenario.
Think Different. Think Hard.
Your answer to the Housing Dilemma is out there – somewhere.
Housing is an expense. Just remember that inalienable truth.
Whether you own or rent, unless you’re “home-less” then housing, typically, will be a major expense in most people’s lives.
The arguments start to rage when people try and determine whether owning their primary place of residence is not just an expense (it’ll be that regardless, only the intensity of the expense will vary depending on location, square footage and remaining mortgage ) but also an investment.
It’s not a trivial question.
Because buying a house, taking on a mortgage is the biggest investment that normal people ever make. So getting the right answer matters.
And the correct answer to “is your mortgaged house not only an expense, but also an investment” can be summed up in two words. Ready? And the answer is: “It depends.”
Because it does. It depends on a mix of the following variables. List them.
Decide where you want to fall. Set up a plan to achieve that. But whether you rent or buy be sure to optimise ruthlessly. And remember home loans (in a buyers’, buoyant market) can be cashed in. You can flip (albeit at a cost) from home-owner to renter. Or flip from large mortgage to lower mortgage by downsizing.
The key here is spend time before you spend money, mapping out your philosophy about home ownership. Avoid sleepwalking. Avoid drift.
Debate the matter. Because it matters.
What’s ” crazy bad” is people spend more time usually specing out a new car ( aka “100% Liability”) or a new holiday (aka 100% Expense) than they ever spend mapping out where their house and home should be.
Don’t be that person.
The 80/20 Rule (Pareto’s Law) predicts that 20% of your list of monthly expenses will account for 80% of your Total Monthly Spend.
This chapter has been about that critical 20% – The Big Three of Food & Drink, Transport and Housing.
It’s been a bit light on detail and a bit heavy on “dad-advice”.
Apologies for that but I think you can find all the detail you need on Food & Drink and Housing in a few inexpensive books on Amazon.
Even if you never read those books – I sincerely hope this chapter serves as a wake-up call to give these three categories the attention they need.
“We must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”william james
If you focus, research and plan your efforts around these three things – well, the results can be spectacular.
You like to have a “competitive edge” or a “productivity edge”? Then look no further, there’s several rich streams that you can start to mine here. Lying at your feet.
Think different. Plan then act. Review and adjust.
You’ve got this. Just stop sleepwalking.